2019 Mercedes-AMG G63 First Drive Review: Go fast everywhere

As the gorgeous French countryside flies by, all I can do is laugh. A 3-ton SUV with the aerodynamic drag coefficient of a commercial refrigerator has just hit 60 miles per hour in a scant 4.4 seconds, and the speed continues to climb with relentless ambition. This experience is equal parts delightful and absurd.

That's the Mercedes-AMG G63 in a nutshell. It is an incredible display of automotive excess; an SUV that is as capable on-road as it is in the dirt, with one of Mercedes' most luxurious interiors and an appearance that just oozes cool.

Strong bones

The 2019 AMG G63 benefits from the same slew of updates as the new G550. That means there's a stronger chassis and body structure, and the doors, fenders and hood are now made from lightweight aluminum.

You'll notice the G63 first and foremost by its AMG-specific schnoz. I'm not completely sold on Mercedes' vertically oriented Panamericana grille here on the big, boxy G-Wagen, but everything else looks great. The flared wheel arches house standard 20-inch rollers wrapped in 275/50-series rubber, though you'll more likely see these things riding on the optional 22s. Meaty 15.7-inch front and 14.6-inch rear brake rotors sit behind those upsized wheels, and the G63 sits a tenth of an inch lower to the ground than its G550 counterpart.

The G63 gets an AMG-specific steering wheel and some unique color options, but otherwise, it has the same wonderful interior as the new G550.

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No shortage of luxury or tech

Everything I like about the G550's interior applies to the AMG G63. It's a lot more spacious and far more comfortable than before, with modern design and superb execution. The G63 gets a few unique material colors and a thick-rimmed, flat-bottomed, AMG-specific steering wheel, but otherwise, what you you saw in the G550 carries over unchanged.

That includes the 12.3-inch center display for Mercedes' mostly good COMAND infotainment system. If you spec the optional dual-screen setup, which replaces the traditional gauges with a second 12.3-inch screen, you'll find some AMG-specific readouts within the suite of driving data, including the all-important lap timer and g-force meter.

It's certainly not a sports car, but thanks to its new front suspension and electromechanical steering setup, the AMG G63 is much easier to control while driving fast.

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Incredible power, now with more poise

While the AMG G63 uses the same 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 engine as the G550, it's tuned to deliver an impressive wealth of power. There's now a staggering 577 horsepower and 627 pound-feet of torque on offer. Not only is that 14 horsepower and 66 pound-feet more than the outgoing G63, it's a full 161 horsepower and 177 pound-feet more than the new G550, which is already plenty robust in terms of available oomph. Combine that with a quick-shifting nine-speed automatic transmission and rear-biased four-wheel-drive, and that's how the absolutely nutso 4.4-second 0-60 sprint is possible. It's a full second quicker to 60 mph than the previous G63, and loud as hell. My God.

Where the old G63 was an absolute terror to drive quickly on winding roads, the new model is significantly more composed. Credit the fully independent front suspension and (especially) the new electromechanical steering setup, both of which are slightly massaged for AMG duty. Like the G550, the G63's steering is far more direct and responsive in its action, though still lacking in tactile feedback. Quick transitions will result in noticeable body roll, but it's nowhere near as topsy-turvy as the old G63. This brutish SUV is a simply a lot easier to control, and the big, AMG-specific brakes can scrub off speed with a quickness should things start to get out of hand.

The G63 gets five different driving modes in its Dynamic Select toggle, with the default Comfort mode providing a great balance of incredible power and manageable aggression. An Eco mode relaxes the throttle response in the hopes of improving fuel economy (hahaha), and on the other end, Sport and Sport+ modes sharpen the steering response and accelerator response, as well as stiffen the adaptive AMG dampers. A final Slippery mode changes the four-wheel-drive torque distribution from its default 40/60 front/rear split to an equal 50/50 setup, and stiffens the dampers for better control in dicey conditions.

Though not quite as capable as a G550, you can still lock all three of the G63's differentials, and there are Trail, Rock and Sand modes built into the off-road Dynamic Select toggle.

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Oh yeah, it'll off-road

Just like the G550, the AMG G63 allows you to lock all three differentials on the full-time 4WD system via large buttons in the center stack. Locking the center diff puts the G63 into its off-road setting, where the Dynamic Select toggle lets you switch between Trail, Rock and Sand modes, altering the steering weight and throttle mapping to allow for smoother inputs better suited to each type of terrain.

The G550's G Mode adaptive off-road settings aren't available on the G63, but that doesn't mean it can't handle the tough stuff. The G63's approach and departure angles are only a couple of degrees more acute than the G550's, though its breakover angle is reduced by a full 4.3 degrees. Still, it'll ford up to 27.6 inches of mucky water, and with so much power on offer, it's hard to imagine a scenario in which the G63 would actually get stuck. Where the G63 will be most at home off-road is on sand dunes, or drifting around long sweepers on dusty trails. Just make sure you fit the proper tires. I wouldn't dream of leaving pavement in one of these rolling on 22s with summer rubber.

If you're holding out for a V12-powered AMG G65, you're out of luck. Good thing the new G63 is all the automotive overkill you'll ever need.

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The ultimate G

Just as the G550 is a better G-Class in all the right ways, so, too, is the G63. It ups the luxury and tech factor by a huge margin, and improvements in drivability mean you can actually use that huge reserve of power.

The G63 is expected to start around $140,000 to $150,000, or about $20,000 more than an equivalent G550. You might raise an eyebrow at that, but remember that the current G63 actually outsells the G550 in places like the Middle East and Los Angeles. In these markets, the G-Wagen is first and foremost a status symbol. And if you're holding out for a new V12-powered G65, well, don't hold your breath. Besides, the exquisite overkill of the new G63 will suit you just fine.

Houston, we have liftoff.

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Editors' note: Roadshow accepts multiday vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews. All scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms. However, for this feature, the manufacturer covered travel costs. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists.

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